Gregg Simpson: Avant-Garde from Vancouver
“ The [Al Neil] trio had a very special chemistry and we would go from playing bop classics...to standards...to apocalyptic sound collages, noise music or John Cage-influenced minimalist improvisations. ”
I was very influenced by records like Coltrane's Meditations (Impulse!, 1965) and Albert Ayler's Spirits Rejoice (ESP, 1965). My playing was a combination of influences from Elvin Jones, Philly Joe [Jones] and then Sunny Murray. I liked Sunny's orchestral approach to the drums. I was also just getting into the music of Claude Debussy at that time and, although his music was much softer than the jazz I listened to, the influence of the timbres and colors of pieces like the Nocturnes and Images Pour Orchestra was profound.
We stopped playing bebop standards by 1967 and the Al Neil Trio went on another year and then became a duo when Richard Anstey left to start his own group. We used a lot of pre-recorded tapes, collage readings, toy instruments and percussion. Gradually we got further into a kind of "art music, with only a few references back to our jazz roots. We played all our concerts at Universities and public art galleries, not clubs. Our music was written about in Coda Magazine. We also ran a multimedia studio with dancers and experimental projectionseven before there were light shows. This was the Sound Gallery and it operated out of a little store which I had rented partly as my painting studio. The whole story of this era including our gig opening for Janice Joplin and the Grateful Dead at the Trips Festival can be read at my website.
By 1971 I had stopped playing with Al and it seemed we went our separate ways except in 1972 we formed the Al Neil Jazz Probe which played all that year and did concerts and recordings. It included Richard Anstey, now on soprano saxophone, and alto sax/flautist Annie Seigel from New York who had once been married to Charles Brackeen, the tenor player. Then there was a break while I formed some other bands such as Sunship Ensemble (1974-75), Vancouver Sound Ensemble (1976), and finally the New Orchestra Quintet (1977-80).
In 1973 I was in Paris with a big art exhibition and met Glenn Spearmann. In 1990 we met here in Vancouver and recorded a long piece at the Du Maurier International Jazz Festival.